Integrative Nutrition Blog

What to Know About the New Menu Labeling Laws

June 20, 2018

Image via Shutterstock. 

If you’ve been to a chain restaurant in the United States recently, you might have noticed calories listed next to menu items and on menu boards. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last month that certain food service establishments will now be required to include calorie information about their menu items.

Cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, and bakeries with more than 20 locations will be subject to the new labeling law. Restaurants and food service establishments that fall into this category must also be able to provide nutritional information upon request, including fat (and trans fat), sugar, cholesterol, and sodium.

Since people are increasingly eating out of the house, being aware of calories contained in a meal may help reduce the risk of weight gain and encourage healthier choices. As obesity and obesity-related diseases continue to increase, this may be a way to encourage lower-calorie dishes or smaller portions when dining out.

Of course, not all calories are created equal and not everyone’s needs are the same, but restaurant foods are notoriously high in calories – portion sizes tend to be larger than what you’d serve yourself at home and ingredients tend to be more decadent (average estimated fat in a restaurant meal may be up to 58 grams).

It can be difficult to get a true sense of how many calories a dish may have based on its description, and research shows that consumers often underestimate them.

Check out these menu items and corresponding calorie content from a popular chain restaurant:

  • Carrot cake = 1,720 calories
  • Cinnamon roll pancakes = 2,040 calories
  • Fried chicken and waffles benedict = 2,060 calories
  • Bistro shrimp pasta = 2,360 calories
  • Breakfast burrito = 2,730 calories

Even a chicken and avocado salad, which many would consider a lighter dish, is a whopping 1,840 calories – enough to meet the daily caloric needs of some individuals.

For many consumers, knowing this information may help them make healthier choices when dining out. The new law also puts pressure on food service establishments to offer lower-calorie and more nutritious options as transparency and demand for these options increases.

On the other hand, some feel that knowing the calorie content of a dish takes some of the enjoyment away from going out to eat. There is some concern that it might exacerbate weight-related concerns and binge-eating habits.

As a Health Coach, how might you educate your clients on the new menu labels? Do you find them useful? Would you consider calorie contents when ordering? Share your thoughts!

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